Updated: May 30, 2020
What is shingles?
Shingles is an infection caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. The infection usually present itself as a painful skin rash with blisters on one side of the body.
How do people get shingles? Who is at risk?
1 out of every 3 Canadians will develop shingles in their lifetime. Anyone who has recovered from chickenpox may develop shingles, since the virus remains dormant in their body and can be reactivated years later. Direct contact with fluid from active shingles may cause the virus to spread to someone who had never had chickenpox or received chickenpox vaccine. Shingles may occur at any age, but the risk of shingles increases as you age (Most patients are 50 or older). People with weakened immune system due to medical conditions or medications also have greater risk of developing shingles.
What are the symptoms of shingles?
Shingles cause a painful rash to develop on one side of the face or body. Before the rash appears, patients may experience pain, itching, or tingling in the affected area. The rash often occurs in one strip along with small blisters, which will scab over in 1 to 2 weeks. The entire healing process usually takes 2 to 4 weeks. Other symptoms of shingles include fever, headache, chills, and upset stomach.
What are the complications of shingles?
The severity of shingles and its complications increase with age. The most common complication is called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN). Approximately 10% of all shingles patients will experience PHN, which involve severe pain in affected body areas, even after the rash clears up. The pain can be debilitating and may last from a few weeks to many years. Shingles may also lead to complications such as scarring, secondary infections, and vision loss (if the infection involved the eye).
What is the best prevention against shingles?
Vaccination is the best protection against shingles. The most recommended vaccine is called Shingrix. It is a privately funded vaccine that is more than 90% effective at preventing shingles and long-term nerve pain. The vaccine consists of 2 inactive doses given 2 to 6 month apart. Since shingles can be recurrent, it is recommended to get shingrix even if you have experienced shingles in the past.
What is the treatment for shingles?
Antiviral medication may be prescribed to reduce the severity and duration of an active shingles infection. Please Contact your family doctor as soon as possible if you experience symptoms of shingles.
For more information on the new Shingles vaccine, refer to Shingrix.ca